Did we like it?
Russell T Davies recently won an OBE for his services to broadcasting, Midnight was a taut, thrilling reminder why he is such a national treasure.
What was good about it?
• It’s always around episode 10 that the budget constraints begin to leave livid weals on the fabric of Doctor Who. Boom Town was decent enough, but doubled up as an advert for the Cardiff Tourist Board, and Love & Monsters and Fear Her were both pretty poor, with the quality degradation quite brilliantly upturned by the sparse Blink last year.
• Midnight follows very much in the vein of Blink, with a focus on dialogue and unseen terror rather than grandstanding special effects and overt narrative. Of course, with the scripts being written by outgoing head honcho Davies and his replacement Stephen Moffat, the dialogue is distinctly different.
• Davies’s trademark has always been his fluid, acidic dialogue, and his talent for breaking up that fluency into unsettling staccato rhythms, and that’s exactly what he did here.
• While not Pinter or Beckett, the use of the disturbing repetition of the possessed Sky Sylvestre (the excellent Lesley Sharp) with her blank, cavernous eyes and sinister mimicry of the frantic dialogue was intensely innovative for Saturday evening TV.
• This reached full fruition when Sky paralysed the Doctor and coerced the other passengers into throwing him out of their broken down transport, and all the once omnipotent Doctor could do was meekly gibber and echo what the now imperious Sky was saying.
• In TV terms, Midnight harked back to the classic two-room sci-fi of the 60s and early 70s, such as Nigel Kneale’s chilling Stone Tape with the viewers’ imagination doing most of the work.
• The supporting cast worked well as, much like in a play, the roles and rank were always in flux. For example, initially Mr and Mrs Kane scorned their son Jethro, but as soon as he offered some insight that might lead to their salvation they waited on his every sacrosanct word, and when he sided briefly with the Doctor, they again scorned him.
• The same happened to Dee Dee, Professor Hobling’s eager assistant, she was the only member of the party – apart from the Doctor – who made any correct assumptions about their plight. Yet again her authority oscillated, and which is why, after generally siding with the Doctor, her concurrence with the consensus to execute the Doctor had so much more power than the neurotic Mrs Kane’s hysterical demands.
• This unstable hierarchy reached its natural conclusion when the previously unlikeable hostess sacrificed her own life to save the Doctor out of a sense of duty – and she’s not the first this series.
• As in Tooth & Claw, there was that sense at the end of the episode of an enduring mystery as to the identity of the spectral entity who appeared to savour the joy of having corporeal form once more. Could it have been Davros (this is not a spoiler, the world, the wife and her mewing kittens know he returns in episode 12) or could it have been the thing pursuing Sky as she seemed terrified of something?
What was bad about it?
• The way in which the Doctor’s fellow marooned travellers got cabin fever rather too quickly. We assumed that the entity had exercised some malignant influence over them to make them horribly suspicious of everyone else, but other than Mrs Kane’s plea of innocence to the Doctor once the entity had been dispatched there was no other evidence. However, given the unsolved mystery of the entity we’re willing to entertain the notion that there was indeed an unseen madness that overwhelmed the travellers’ usual good sense rather than an overly convenient volatility in the psyches of the passengers.